Taking the road less travelled

What Can Olympians Teach CPOs About Leadership?

CPOs and Olympians gather to discuss leadership.

Taking the road less travelled
Success is about taking a path you believe in.

During the month of August, The Faculty Roundtable once again took to the road. Sessions were held with leading Australian CPO’s in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. What stood out from this series of events was the changing role of the CPO. As we highlighted in this article, the rapid change of pace in the procurement landscape is challenging CPOs to lead and motivate their teams in entirely new ways.

During its August session, The Faculty Roundtable brought together a group of elite Australian CPOs as well leaders from the business world and the sports field to discuss the changing face of leadership in Australian procurement.

The points below present a summary of these discussions.

An Olympic Perspective

Jenn Morris, the guest speaker at our Perth event, has a truly impressive record in leadership. Jenn is currently a partner at Deloitte, a director at the Fremantle Dockers Football Club, the Commissioner of the Australian Sports Commission and a dual Olympic gold medallist. So when Jenn speaks about leadership, she is provocative, challenging and it pays to listen.

Drawing on fascinating examples from both her corporate career and time with the Olympic gold medal winning Australian hockey team, Morris’s discussion on leadership highlighted some truly valuable lessons for Australian CPOs. She spoke on the importance of leaders setting the bar for performance within an organisation. It is the responsibility of CPOs to define what ‘high performance’ is and ensure the workplace is structured in a way to deliver this kind of performance.

Morris also described the importance of leaders sticking to their guns, suggesting that it takes courage to develop a plan and stick it through thick and thin. This statement was given some context with the example of the Fremantle Football Club, a team that for 15 years was perceived to be underperforming. The organisation undertook a top-to-bottom strategy change. Many of the decisions made in this process drew criticism from the clubs fans and footballing media. However the leadership team stuck to their plan and this year the team has finished the season on top of the ladder. Morris, a director at the club, emphasised the importance of not being distracted as a leader, suggesting that success is about setting a path that you believe in and having the courage and faith to stick to it.

New Projects that Challenge Procurement’s Traditional Modus Operandi 

Perhaps one of the most innovative initiatives we’ve seen come out of the Roundtable in recent times was a project that saw a number of firms in the same industry (traditional competitors) working together to develop a joint supplier pre-qualification process. The CPOs involved in this fascinating project were able to put traditional rivalries behind them and work together on a project that would be mutually beneficial for all involved.  This project perfectly highlighted the need for CPOs to challenge their traditional thinking to come up with solutions that will provide optimal benefit for the business.

Hurdles to effective leadership

A dramatic discussion in Sydney led by managing director of Transfield Holdings, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, highlighted the role that external forces (such as governments) play both in hindering and enabling corporate leadership in Australia. Belgiono-Nettis is a passionate follower of disruptive models and spoke of his work in exploring random citizen selection as a community change tool that challenges traditional notions of power in the political process.

CPOs discussed the challenges that they felt stood in the way between themselves and optimal leadership. Belgiorno-Nettis challenged CPOs to try and understand what is was that brought people together in a collaborative manner and to harness a culture that encouraged this. Also highlighted, was the fact that true leaders are unfazed by taking new approaches to old problems. Drawing references to current political systems, Belgiorno-Nettis suggested that sometimes a complete rethink of power and leadership structures is necessary to impact positive change.

Linking Procurement Activity with Board Strategy

Annabel Chaplain, a non-executive director at Downer, highlighted that as procurement continues to move into the corporate spotlight, the function’s leaders are realising the importance of taking actions towards achieving corporate objectives set by the board rather than their own ‘procurement objectives’. Knowledgeable boards are now seeing procurement as a legitimate avenue for competitive advantage and the CPO is viewed as the conduit between board level objectives and procurement activity. It is the leadership of CPOs that will ensure corporate objectives are met.

Chaplain’s presentation pointed out that the leadership qualities shown by CPOs need to go both up and down the chain. Truly successful CPOs are able to lead their teams to achieve corporate goals but are also able to educate board members about the opportunities and challenges that lie within the businesses they are tasked with guiding.